This Video Game Could Become a New Alzheimer’s Testing Tool

This Video Game Could Become a New Alzheimer’s Testing Tool



Neurological disorders have been in the news lately in large part due to the stunning revelation of Robin Williams’ Parkinson’s diagnosis and the viral ice bucket challenge campaign to raise money and awareness for ALS.  Meanwhile, the diagnosis rate of  another neurological disorder, Alzheimer’s Disease, has been steadily climbing across the country as American life expectancy continues to rise.

In time, the best way to discover early on whether a patient has Alzheimer’s might be analysis of video game scores.

Boston games startup Akili Interactive Labs (@AkiliLabs) is partnering with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer in a clinical study involving 100 elderly people. While these patients won’t have Alzheimer’s disease, half of them will have the protein buildup in the brain thought to be associated with Alzheimer’s risk. These gamers will take on the role of an alien who must steer through a three-dimensional world. The players earn rewards for their success as they deal with tasks and obstacles along the way. The game is adaptive so it will adjust and become harder or easier, depending on a player’s performance.


The iOS-based game, called Project: EVO, monitors each player’s progress over time. Studying gamer performance will allow researchers to identify patients experiencing cognitive decline indicative of Alzheimer’s disease. There are other consumer-focused games in health available commercially, but Akili is aiming higher. The company is striving to market its tablet game as both a Food and Drug Administration-approved medical device as well as a tool for pharmaceutical companies. Pfizer, which is funding the study, could eventually use such games to select and monitor patients in clinical trials of Alzheimer’s disease drugs.

“To our knowledge, the pharmaceutical industry has never used a video game to detect a disease and has also not done so in a setting of a real clinical tool and a real clinical trial,” Akili Vice President of Research and Development Eddie Martucci told Mobihealthnews. “We think this is a major step forward, certainly for us as a company, but broader in the digital health field.”

Alzheimer’s disease is just a start. Akili also has an investment from Shire Pharmaceuticals, which is partnering with the startup on a separate clinical study in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The company is also running gaming studies on autism spectrum disorders and depression. Akili estimates that by the end of the year, 400 people will have participated in clinical trials using its game platform.


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